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Brendan Smialowski

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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC)

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The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)

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President Obama delivered his third State of the Union speech last night before a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C.

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(AP) – Determined never to forget but perhaps ready to move on, the nation gently handed Sept. 11 over to history Sunday and etched its memory on a new generation. A stark memorial took its place where twin towers once stood, and the names of the lost resounded from children too young to remember terror from a decade ago.

In New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, across the United States and the world, people carried out rituals now as familiar as they are heartbreaking: American flags unfurled at the new World Trade Center tower and the Eiffel Tower, and tears shed at the base of the Pentagon and a base in Iraq.

It was the 10th time the nation has paused to remember a defining day. In doing so, it closed a decade that produced two wars, deep changes in national security, shifts in everyday life – and, months before it ended, the death at American hands of the elusive terrorist who masterminded the attack.

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Dawn breaks over ground zero in lower Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. The two memorial fountains, among the largest artificial waterfalls in the world, sit where the twin towers stood. (James Estrin/The New York Times) #

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A woman at the National September 11 Memorial, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, mourns the loss of her son who died during attacks at the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Carolyn Cole, Pool) #

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People gather during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, outside the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #

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People pay their respects during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, outside the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #

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Hikers unfurl a large flag on the top of Peak One of the Ten Mile Range outside of Frisco, Colo., Sept. 11, 2011. The Sunday following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, several dozen friends climbed the peak to raise an American flag, and on Sunday, many of the same group made a return trek. (Matthew Staver/The New York Times) #

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Some of those attending the 10th anniversary commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade center sought out the engravings of loved ones' names on the walls surrounding the reflecting pool, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. Here, Corey Gaugioso traces the name of his sister, Candace Lee Williams, who was on Flight 11, which crashed into the same tower where she worked for Merrill Lynch. (AP Photo/David Handschuh, #

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Las Vegas firefighter Capt. Eric Littmann walks in a parade commemorating the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) #

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Construction cranes sit atop One World Trade Center as dawn breaks over the New York skyline on Sunday morning, Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks. (Librado Romero/The New York Times) #

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Beverly Hills Police officers gather just after dawn to remember the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in Beverly Hills, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond) #

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People pause by the waterfall pool at the National September 11 Memorial before a planned ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center site, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) #

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On the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, visitors stand at the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., Sept. 11, 2011. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times) #

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Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza in the attacks at the World Trade Center, pauses at his son's name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial before the 10th anniversary ceremony at the site, Sunday Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool) #

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Police and firefighters march in formation as they carry a folded flag past one of the memorial pools at the Sept. 11 memorial, during the 10th anniversary observance of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in New York,. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool) #

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A man walks among nearly 3,000 flags set up as part of a remembrance on 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) #

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Members of the Texas State Guard 1st. Battalion, 1st. Regiment Alamo Guards stand by a piece of the World Trade Center during the City of San Antonio, Texas commemoration at Alamo Plaza, of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/The San Antonio Express-News, Jerry Lara) #

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Bagpipers walk past the the National Sept. 11 Memorial during a commemoration ceremony in New York on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2011. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) #

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People listen during a memorial service at the Pentagon September 11, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Navy Admiral Mike Mullen and others attended the service at the Pentagon Memorial to commemorate the 10th anniversary the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images) #

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Kelley Korona and husband Marc Robinson, left, a Purple Heart recipient, from Canton, share a moment at the Michigan Remembers 9/11 Fund's Detroit Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K run/walk/roll on Belle Isle in Detroit, on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Proceeds send two Michigan firefighters to the Sept 25 Tunnel to Towers run in New York City. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, David Coates) #

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A friar stands near a bunker coat and helmet belonging to FDNY chaplain Mychal Judge during a memorial service and dedication ceremony to induct the two items into the permanent display at the New York City Fire Museum on September 11, 2011 in New York City. New York City firefighters are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and honoring the 343 firefighters who died in the line of duty. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) #

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Firefighters attend a memorial service for firefighters killed on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan at the Firemen's Monument at Riverside Park on September 11, 2011 in New York City. Firefighters from around the world have converged on New York to take part in the anniversary services. New York City and the nation are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) #

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Family members look at the names of victims inscribed on the wall of one of the pools at the National September 11 Memorial during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 at the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/Lucas Jackson, Pool) #

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Firefighters attend a memorial service for firefighters killed on 9/11 at the Firemen's Monument at Riverside Park on September 11, 2011 in New York City. Firefighters from around the world have converged on New York to take part in the anniversary services. New York City and the nation are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and one crash landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) #

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People gather during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, outside the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #

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Firefighters climb the stairs of the Pleasant Valley Drill Tower in Austin, Texas, during the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. About 50 firefighters from several area fire departments participated in the event. Each firefighter climbed 108 flights of stairs - roughly the height of of the World Trade Center - to remember those firefighters who died in the 9/11 terror attacks. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner) #

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Celeste Pocher embraces her daughter after finding her brother in law's name, John Pocher at the north pool at the National September 11 Memorial during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) #

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A rider from the Ride 2 Recovery 9/11 Challenge walks through the Empty Sky memorial in Liberty State Park Sunday Sept. 11, 2011 in Jersey City, N.J. From Liberty State Park the ride will go to the United 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., and then on to the Pentagon in Washington DC, a total of 530 miles in 8 days. (AP Photo/Joe Epstein) #

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New York Firefighter Zachary Fletcher embraces his mother Monica Fletcher after finding his twin brother Andre G. Fletcher's name engraved at the south pool of the National September 11 Memorial during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) #

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New York City fire department paramedic John Rugen, center left, buries his face in his hand during a 9/11 memorial service at the Peace Arch-Douglas border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia, on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Hundreds of people gathered at the Canada-U.S. border to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck) #

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A U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant who asked that his name not be used, kneels near his father's name after a remembrance ceremony at the Garden of Reflection Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in Yardley, Pa. The memorial honors nine people from Lower Makefield Township, where the memorial is located, eighteen people from Bucks County, and all 58 people from Pennsylvania that lost their lives in the attacks Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) #

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Alicia Bergstein, center, comforts her children Devin Bergstein, left, and Adrianna Bergstein while visiting the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Daniel Bergstein, Alicia husband and the childrens' father, was killed in the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool) #

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A photograph of Grace Cua is placed near her name at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2011. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) #

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Family members of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks, gather at the edge of the north reflecting pool of the Sept. 11 memorial during 10th anniversary ceremonies at the site, in New York, Sunday Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Chip Somodevilla, Pool) #

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Roses are left on the bronze plaques that bear the names of the victims of the September 11 terror attacks on one of the reflecting pool walls at the Sept. 11 memorial, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Chip Somodevilla, Pool) #

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Andrew Kara, a U.S. Marine Corp veteran, right, and his girlfriend, Nicky Figueredo, who lost a friend in the Sept. 11 attacks, observe the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2011. (Michael Nagle/The New York Times) #

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Mourners gather at the edge of one of the two memorial pools of the National September 11 Memorial in the World Trade Center site in New York during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Some people wrote notes to their deceased loved ones when they found their names engraved on the edges of the pools. (AP Photo/Aaron Showalter, Pool) #

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Michael Lira and his brother Kenny Lira's goddaughter Hailey Perez, 11, hold a photo of Kenny who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2011. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) #

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A mourner traces the name of a victim of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/David Handschuh, Pool) #

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Madhu Narula, of Kings Park, N.Y., reacts after hearing the name of her daughter, Manika Narula, pictured on shirt below, as the names of the victims of 9/11 are read during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) #

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People pay their respects during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, outside the World Trade Center site in New York. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) #

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A woman cries while reading her father's name, as the victims of 9/11 are remembered during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) #

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Family members share a quiet moment at the south memorial fountain at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2011. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) #

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Jackie and Sam Sapio salute during the national anthem as they raise a large American flag from the ladder of a fire truck in a parking lot overlooking the Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon on September 11, 2011 in Arlington, VA. The group raised the same flag earlier in the day in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and will raise it later in New York City. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) #

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk to the crash site of Flight 93 during their visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial Sunday, Sept., 11, 2011, in Shanksville, Pa., on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) #

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Nancy Gregory, hugs her sons Carl, left, and Gregory as they pay their respects to her husband firefighter Ken Kumpel at the National September 11 Memorial during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks at World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) #

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Garrett Hauck, 5, from Ballwin, Missouri, looks up at some of the of 2,996 flags planted on Art Hill in St. Louis on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 after a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "People will ask him if he wants to be a baseball player when he grows up and he says no I want to be a firefighter," said his mother Carrie Hauck, not pictured, "He practically sleeps in this outfit." (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) #

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Sgt. 1st Class Keith Finkler, 43, left, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Sgt. Maj. William Moore, light a candle during a ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 U.S. terror attacks and for soldiers killed from the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the attacks Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman) #

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Three thousand flags rise out of the mist at dawn on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in Forest Park in St. Louis before the start of several ceremonies commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the terrorists attacks. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) #

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Spc. Angel Batista, 26, left to right, of Bloomingdale, N.J., Spc. Jacob Greene, 22, of Shreveport, La., and Sgt. Joe Altmann, 26, of Marshfield, Wisc., with the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment based in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, sit beneath a new American flag just raised to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sept. 11, 2011 at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman) #

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Lindsey Farrell, 25, and her boyfriend Ryan Heaberlin, 30, watch the Cardinals game Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Heaberlin is a firefighter with the Cottleville Fire Protection District in St. Charles, Missouri. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) #

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U.S. soldiers attend an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, at the U.S. of Bagram north of Kabul, Afghanistan Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq) #

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People attend a mass Sunday, Sept. 11 2011, at Lisbon's 16th century Jeronimos Monastery to remember the victims of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/Armando Franca) #

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Flower tributes to the victims of 9/11 terror attacks lay in the 9/11 Memorial Garden in London, after family members placed the flowers in memory of lost loved ones, during a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Sunday Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo / Lewis Whyld) #

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This past month, much of the attention focused on Afghanistan centered on the release of thousands of classified documents from the war effort by WikiLeaks. While the consensus appears to be that nothing significantly new was revealed by the release, the picture painted by the documents remains rather bleak. NATO and the United States now have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 in coming weeks as they take a counter-insurgency offensive into the insurgents' southern strongholds. Taliban control remains difficult to dislodge, and once removed from an area, Taliban forces often return once larger forces leave a region, especially in rural areas where local government presence remains small. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. (47 photos total)
A U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornet aircraft prepares to refuel over Afghanistan July 8, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin/Released)

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Afghanistan - United States - Taliban - War in Afghanistan - NATO

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